13: Nourishing Your Own Way with Dr. Emma Svanberg
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Hey team! Welcome to episode three of the CIHAS pod, season 2. This week, I’m joined by Dr. Emma Svanberg - clinical psychologist, speaker and campaigner with expertise in attachment and perinatal psychology - AKA Mumologist on IG. In this episode, we focus on some of the stories that we bring to parenting, and the socially constructed ideas we have about parenting. We talk about how sometimes looking for all the advice and answers actually takes us farther away from what we’re looking for, and I ask Emma why she thinks we’re so drawn to advice from so-called parenting experts. Finally, we talk about how we can sift through all the noise of parenting advice, and find what’s best for us and for our kids and learn to leave the rest.
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Here’s the transcript in full:
Emma: If we are stuck on that idea that this is, you know, the kinda cognitive, that intellectual idea that this is what should happen, it becomes so hard to see our child's experience of what it is that we're trying to do. So again, you know, being able to base those things on the relationship. You know what, what did it feel like when I have prepared this food for my child and they have refused it, or actually they're disgusted by it? How does that make me feel? what does that touch on for me as a parent? And often there are such complex issues with that.
Laura: Hey, and welcome to another episode of Can I Have Another Snack podcast, where I'm asking my guests who or what they're nourishing right now, and who or what is nourishing them. I'm Laura Thomas, an anti diet registered nutritionist, and author of the Can I Have Another Snack newsletter. Today I'm talking to Dr. Emma Svanberg. You may know her better as Mumologist on Instagram. Emma is a clinical psychologist, speaker and campaigner with expertise in attachment and perinatal psychology. She's co-founder of Make Birth Better and founded the Psychology Collective in 2019, which is a team of practitioners offering psychological support and guidance for the whole family.
Today we are gonna be talking about Emma's new book, Parenting for Humans, which is out next month and is available to pre-order now. Now, before you get totally freaked out, this book isn't a book that tells you how to be a better parent or to set up new standards or expectations for how you should parent. Rather, the point of the book is to understand how you were parented and all the experiences that you bring to your parenting with the hope of getting to know yourself better and therefore understand what you are bringing to your relationship with your kid. So Emma and I discuss what some of the stories are that we bring to parenting about what we've learned, about what a parent should be from our own experiences, but also what are socially constructed ideas about parenting.
We talk about how sometimes looking for all the advice and answers actually takes us further away from what we're looking for. And I ask Emma why she thinks we're so drawn to advice from so-called parenting experts. Finally, we talk about how we can sift through all the noise of parenting advice and find what's best for us and our kids, and learn to just leave the rest.
So we'll get to Emma in just a minute, but first I wanted to remind you that my Raising Embodied Eaters workshop is on Tuesday, the 21st of February. Don't worry, it's not going to be me giving you a bunch of useless tips and tricks, but we will explore your relationship with food and think about how you can support your kids to have a positive relationship with food and their body. I will also give you some practical tools, but my intention is to help you take the pressure off of feeding your kids and help you create a home that supports a healthy relationship to food and bodies. I've linked to the full description in the show notes, so you can check it out. It's 15 pounds. It will be, um, all on Zoom, and I'll have the recording available for a week afterwards that you can watch on catch up if you like. Plus you'll also get a copy of my Raising Embodied Eaters Guide to share with friends, family, childcare, and schools. So click the link in the show notes and you'll get the full details of what we're gonna talk about in that workshop.
And lastly, before we get to Emma, just a quick reminder that Can I Have Another Snack? is a reader supported publication. I'd love to bring you more deeply researched pieces, but it requires a significant investment in my time, plus the support of an editor and behind the scenes. Admin support. So if you are in a position to become a paid subscriber, then please consider it. It's five pounds a month or 50 pounds for the year. It works out at something like 50 p an article. And if that's not accessible for you right now, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org, putting the word ‘snacks’ in the subject line, and we'll hook you up with a comp subscription, no questions asked. You don't have to explain yourself. I trust that if you are able to afford a subscription right now, you will, and if not, then just get in touch.
All right, team. Here's my conversation with Dr. Emma Svanberg.
Laura: All right, Emma, I'd love it if you could start by letting us know who or what you are nourishing right now.
Emma: Well, at the moment I am just in the process of nourishing the, I suppose, the next few weeks that are coming up for me, which are all about my new book, that is coming out in March called Parenting for Humans, which is a funny process, right? Because you sort of just dated over a long period of time. And then, uh, you know, as you know yourself, as we get closer to launch date, there are lots of different kinda angles to think about. So at the moment I'm both nourishing trying to, uh, talk about my book, trying to really kind of get to grips with understanding how it's going to resonate with people. I think that's the kinda key thing for me thinking about the ideas that I really want to kind of get out there into the world while at the same time still nourishing myself and my family as best I can.
Laura: Yeah. I mean, I remember when I published my first book, I didn't have that same, I didn't have any responsibilities to anyone else except myself. and then when the second book came along, I had a six month old at that point, and it was just a completely different experience and it was such a fine balance to kind of, you know, preserve myself in amongst the chaos of book publishing. So I hope that you're managing to, to find pockets and moments to relax and decompress and, and yeah, tend to yourself because it can be a lot. I don't think people realize that writing the book, editing, fact checking, copy editing, all of the, that whole lengthy, lengthy process is like 50% publishing a book. Maybe? Like there's all of the publicity and everything surrounding that is like, is a huge piece of it.
Emma: Yeah, absolutely. I think that what makes it easier is that I'm really excited about this book. I mean, I've also written a previous book that was a very niche specialist book about birth trauma and was also very excited about that one of course, but this book kind of really brings in all of the therapeutic ideas that I've worked with with clients and have done so for many years. So in some ways I think that, you know, in itself, kinda talking about the ideas of the book, um, is something that I'm really enjoying doing and kind trying to figure out, you know, which has always been something that's been really important to me, how do we turn what can feel like really inaccessible, complex psychological concepts into ideas that will make sense to people so that they can very quickly then apply them to their own lives.
Laura: So, and you've kind of, you've kind of touched on it a little bit in terms of kind of the, um, maybe more how the book functions, but can you tell us a little bit more about what you are covering in the book, what is the message you're trying to get across?
Emma: Um, I think that it started off, the idea came from my experience of working with parents. Um, you know I kind of qualified back in 2009, I qualified but, and the experience that I see parents having over that time has changed so much. So back when I first qualified my role was very much about helping parents, most usually mothers within the NHS and I was seeing people to, you know, kinda really value their role and think about kinda getting support in place, you know, very kinda clear difficulties around, for example, birth trauma or anxiety about bonding with a baby or postnatal depression would be a very common, um, difficulty that I'd see. What's shifted in that time is that there is a whole added layer that has been added on top of that for parents, which is around pressure to do things a certain way, to be a certain way. To parent in a particular way, and that is pressure that is felt by parents, but it's also pressure that then is experienced by children. And what we have then seen kind of come up in, particularly in the last five years or so, is so much advice, so much information about how you can tackle that. You know, try doing it like this. This is a really useful strategy that you could have. These are some really useful words that you can say to your child, but what I then see is parents who've tried that, it's not working for a reason, and then they end up feeling like there's something really wrong with me. I'm a terrible parent, or I'm not doing this well enough, or there's something wrong with my child. My child is broken. Because all of these beautiful strategies are not working. Where we-
Laura: I never, sorry. Just that, just like really, that really resonated with, not resonated, but it, it kind of, it struck a nerve that I've thought a lot about how pressure, and I think about this a lot as, as a professional who kind of gives advice and, and shares some of the, the things that you talk about in the book, you know, strategies and advice.
Um, I try and be really deliberate and thoughtful and intentional about that. Whether or not that lands is another is, is another thing, but, so I, I think through, you know, at being a parent, think through how that, how much pressure and how much pressure there is on parents in general, how that contributes to anxiety, to guilt, to shame, to all of these things.
But I hadn't actually thought about how, what the implication is for our children as well and how they experience that as pressure themselves and how they are embodying some of these ideals and ideas and, and fantasies around, what it means a per, to show up as a parent in a, a person in the world and what that will mean for them as they, as they grow up.
So, yeah. Sorry, that just , sorry to interrupt you there, but that just kind of really struck me, what you were saying.
Emma: It's so often it's about the dynamic, right? We focus our attentions as professionals onto the parents rather than or onto the child. But actually, I think kinda a really core part of the message of the book is that it's about your dynamic as a family and the relationship that exists between all of the different members of the family.
So, you know, you, you as a mother might go off and do loads of reading, loads of research, gather loads of information, try particular strategies, but if they don't click for your child or for your family with your partner or for the context in which you're living in, actually, you can end up feeling like I'm not applying this in the correct way, rather than, actually, maybe that strategy wasn't correct for me and my family and the situation that we're in.
Emma: I think for me a lot of that work, cause I, I'm an adult psychologist, I focus on work with kinda adult mental health. You know, for me a lot of that is about us as parents understanding where we're coming from. You know what's important to us, what history we're bringing into our parenting relationship.
Once we understand ourselves, it becomes so much easier to understand what will work for our child or for our family, and it also really allows us to see them as the people that they are. That's why it's called Parenting For Humans, right? Cause it's about, you know, how do we parent as the whole humans that we are, not just how we show up as mum or dad, but also then parenting our children for the whole humans that they are, which is, you know, flaws and all. Aside from those kind of idealized stories that we read about or hear about that, you know, kinda describe family life as only fitting a very particular model.
Laura: Absolutely. Yeah, you, that's one of the, the main themes that you, you talk about at the beginning of the book, this idea that we hold onto stories about what being a parent means, what it looks like, how we should be as parents, what we should value, and so on, and I'm wondering if you could just say a little more about this idea of stories and the impact that holding so tightly to these fantasies can have on us, on our family life, on those dynamics that you mentioned.
Emma: Yeah, absolutely. I think, uh, you know, the book is based on this idea of a map that we kinda bring stories onto a map that we don't even know necessarily, that we have. Now might be stories from our own babyhood and childhood and stories from adulthood, stories from society, but also the stories that we've kinda internalized from previous generations, from the cultures that we live in.
So, so many stories that we hold unconsciously, the tricky thing for us as adults is that we often don't even know that we're holding those stories until we come up against something that proves them wrong. And there are so many of them in parenthood, right? Like there's the kinda really basic ones like, I dunno, for example, maybe I hold a story that I should be able to put a baby in a blanket, pop it in a cot and it's going to go to sleep and that's just what babies do. That is a story that is so prevalent in our society.
You know, think about what you see on tv, what you see in images. You know, those kinda photos that you see of beautiful babies with, you know, angelic faces, fast asleep. And actually then when you experience an actual baby and babies are full of more emotion, that can just change at any moment, you don't always know what that is, because you have that story or maybe you hold that unconscious story that when I put that baby in a blanket and I put it in a crib, it's gonna go to sleep. We're then coming up against that obstacle straightaway when that doesn't work. Cause we internalize that almost like a should, like this is what should happen. And when it doesn't happen, it can often take us quite a while to then think, well maybe that's because that story actually doesn't apply to me, my child, our situation. We then think I'm doing something wrong. Maybe I need a different blanket, maybe I need a different crib, maybe the room temperature's wrong. Maybe my baby has a sleep problem. You know? So we go down that road rather than go that level down and think, what is the story that I've kind internalized here? Is that a story that actually fits for me and for my baby or for my family?
Laura: Yeah. I like that idea of kind of peeling back the layers. Like of, okay, this is what I'm told is, you know, could be wrong. Here are all the, you know, as you were listing all those solutions there, I was like, oh my God, there's so many things that we're told that we should do, so many variables that we should, you know, be well, first of all, aware of, and secondly, be able to manipulate. Um, when actually when we strip that away, asking ourselves, does this advice, does this information that I'm sifting through actually apply to me? And, and what is that background story that I've kind of hung, you know, I'm hanging my ideas about my child on, um, and, and, you know, do they actually hold up to scrutiny when we, when we look at them more closely?
Emma: Absolutely. And it's, you know, we have to bring them into consciousness before we can hold them up to scrutiny. And that's the bit that often we don't do. Cause we just have so many of these stories. We have so many of these ideas that, you know, just because they're around us all the time, we don't question them.
And then as soon as you start questioning them, what often happens is that people have, you know, multiple light bulb moments, right on that journey of parenthood where you suddenly go, oh, why am I doing that actually? Cause that doesn't really work.
Laura: I know exactly what you're talking about with those light bulb moments, and I, I remember having one, maybe even, I don't know, as recently as like six or or nine months ago when kind of just, we just got out of, you know, the really, really intense baby phase. It's still pretty intense. But, looking back and, and like thinking about how many of these, you know, like how many stories I suppose I had collected from, you know, parenting books or podcasts or social media accounts or whatever it was.
And then having to like really have a talk with myself about like, this is not, this does not apply to me like this , I don't need any of this. This is making things more difficult, more stressful, more pressured for me. And actually, what I noticed was that it was really undermining my own instincts about how I wanted to parent and, and kind of making me second guess myself a lot.
Um, and, and as soon as I kind of got to that, it like made things so much simpler. I was like, okay, but is this, does this, you know, now I can look at something and say, okay, but does this actually align with my values? Is this actually helpful to me?
Emma: Absolutely. And does it fit?
Laura: Does it fit my child? You know, or is it actually gonna cause us more tension or friction or, or whatever it might be.
Um, so yeah, I really resonate with that idea of having, being like a sort of light bulb moment and being like, this is trash. We don't need this . Um, and what, what's actually important and valuable for me?
There was a part in the book again that really resonated with me, and I think it kind of relates to, um, to what, what we're talking about here. So I have your book and I've, I've highlighted a little section here and I wondered if it'd be okay if I, if I read it back.
Emma: Oh, I'd love that. I haven't heard it out loud. So yes,
Laura: Have you, you haven't recorded the audio book then yet?
Emma: That's coming.
Laura: You have that fun to come. So you, you've written, "because when we find ourselves looking for the answers that will make it all easier we can lose sight of the child right in front of us. We have this idea that if we just find the right strategy, the right label, the right technique, the right line to say, perhaps even the right diagnosis, then everything would be okay. Then we'll have cracked it, whatever it is, sleeping, feeding, eating five portions of fruit and veg, good behavior, a healthy relationship. We keep chasing that magic solution and we never stop and look at what is going on right now in ourselves, in our children, and in our families." And yeah, this is such a fine line that I straddle as a practitioner, someone who works with parents and families, how can I be supportive without making it seem like if you just follow my five point plan or my formula , that um, you know, everything will, you know, will solve all, all your problems.
I wonder if you could speak to, you know, why we are so drawn to looking to experts to help us figure out how to parent rather than looking at our own child.
Emma: I think that there's, well, there's two parts to it, right. There's kinda the context in which we live. So historically we would've lived closer to our families. We would've been part of communities, you know, even when I was a child, absolutely, there was much more a sense of kinda community there, other neighbors around, or more experienced parents who you might come to a particular guidance.
So a lot of that has gone, you know, people are parenting much more in isolation. Um, and also in this country, that kind early intervention, preventative care that used to be very much part of the early parenting experience where you'd have a midwife that you knew well, you'd a health visitor that you knew well.
There were community nurses that were around, had school nurses, so you know, all of those professionals that you had easy access to have virtually disappeared in the last kind of 15 years. So that has made a huge difference to people's ability to access information. The research shows that people still do turn to their family and friends, first and foremost, for information above experts.
I think then when you have maybe particular issues that you are struggling with, where you might want to speak to a professional like you, if you can't access that for whatever reason, then of course there is this, you know, absolute wealth of information that is now available to you on the internet. So I think that there's just a kind practical reality to how differently we live and how that has meant that lots of people have less access to professional expertise then maybe they would have done in the past.
There's also, I think, because there's so much more information out there that is accessible on the internet, for example, um, people tend to feel a bit bombarded. So there can be a pressure to feel like you have to choose a particular camp, you know, I follow the expertise of experts who follow like this line of thinking, for example.
And then, you know, you can absolutely go down a rabbit hole finding out so much information about this one particular thing. But if that is a, an idea or um, a set of strategies that doesn't really fit your family, it can feel really hard to then pull yourself out that and shift to different, different model, you know, these things are presented to us as different models or strategies rather than flexible ideas that we might be able to apply in flexible ways. And then I also think the kind of other side of it is, I mean, we know this in a wider sense, that we do live in a society that rises perfection. And often when we come to have children, we might have already felt great sense of achievement and success in other areas of our life.
And there can be a sense for lots of parents that they're gonna take same set of principles that I'm gonna do this and I'm gonna do this well, and by doing it well I have to follow these particular guidelines. If I do these things, and that means that I'm a good parent, and it's almost like we apply that same sense of achievement, productivity, purpose to the act of parenting.
What's difficult, of course, is that they children and ourselves change on a daily basis, you know when they're really little they change almost on an hourly basis, so, when we can feel like we're picking that box, we feel like we've got a strategy or a plan that works, if our child changes or our circumstances change, or we change, you know, and, and actually, you know, again, that kinda idea of flexibility can feel quite hard to hold onto.
Think it's a combination of lots of different things and, and then of course, you know, supply and demand. The more that we look for expertise, the more experts will share their knowledge with us.
Emma: You know it's so easy to be able to go and find a piece of information that we're looking for. And there can be tremendous benefits to that. And again, the research shows that there is a benefit to that. The cost is for people who have that sense of socially oriented perfectionism, where there might be a sense of shame or judgment, when they don't feel like they're meeting this particular ideal, for example, that might be held up to them by the different things that they're kinda reading or hearing.
So again, I think, yeah, lots of different reasons. Some, some of them have kinda huge benefits to us in kinda what we have access to, but that also has to be held in mind with what it's costing us in terms of the pressure that we put on ourselves as parents. But also, like we said before, the pressure that then puts on us as a family, in the relationships within the family if not everybody's on board with that way of doing things. So it's important to kind of hold that in mind too. And sometimes, you know, you can take the bits that you need from experts, but essentially what it comes down to is how am I gonna apply this to my situation or our situation? That can be really hard to do.
Laura: Mm-hmm. And, and I want to, to talk to you in a second, just a little bit about how we can sort of sift through the noise and, and figure out what, what is valuable and helpful for us. Because as you say, there are things that you know, might, might make a difference and, and might be really important, um, you know, might be great, helpful information for us. But really appreciated you naming in the book and, and you've said it again here, just sort of this, what I would conceptualize probably as sort of internalized capitalism. This idea to constantly be producing, to be achieving, to be succeeding. And, and as you pointed out in the book, you know, that's how we are, um, schooled. That's, you know, if we go onto further education, that's how we approach our employment. But do we ever take a step back and, and think about why am a, applying the same tools to my parenting and, and my relationships with other human beings as I am to, you know, a, a achieving, um, you know, a certificate or a degree or whatever, whatever it might be. And I just think that, yeah, capitalism has so much to answer for here, both in terms of that and, and how we just approach our parenting. But also going back to what you were saying before about how we used to be so much more in community and around, you know, we would turn to like our parents or maybe like our older siblings or neighbors or cousins or, or whatever it was that were, you know, in proximity to us. And now it's so much easier to just look at, at, at somebody on our phone than it is to like reach out and have a meaningful conversation with someone. And that's because we're, you know, capitalism thrives right, by keeping us isolated, keeping us away from each other, um, when we are, we are so interdependent especially when it comes to, to parenting. And I think about this a lot in terms of how much easier it would be to feed kids if we were more in community. You know, if your neighbors were like taking round a lasagna cuz like you've had this reciprocal thing where like, you know, you each double batch cooked something and then swapped every week so that you ha-, you know, that you were caring for each other in that way and sharing the load and sharing the burden.
And also when we're in community, we can see that, yeah. Oh, look, that toddler also doesn't eat vegetables. Cool. All right. it's a toddler thing. Whereas when we, when we look, log into social media, all we hear is like, oh, let's, you know, try and program our children to love broccoli more than they love cake or you know, whatever, whatever it is. So I'm on my high horse now, Emma, but-
Emma: So go for it. Go for it. Love it.
Laura: I just, I guess kind of thinking, thinking a little bit more specifically about feeding, um, and like the relationship that our children have, um, with food, which I think is so often, well it's a reflection of our own relationship with our food and we with food and our bodies and we, if we have unresolved things there, then that can, can kind of have a cascade effect.
But also, you know, I see a lot of generic feeding advice that gets thrown around without nuance or caveats or, or just even the disclaimer of like, it, you don't have to do this if it doesn't work for you and your family. I think, I feel like if people said that more often, that would be really helpful.
But this advice ends up adding more pressure to the feeding relationship, which can be counterproductive for feeding, and perpetuates this narrative about a correct or a best way to feed a child. And I mean, we could extrapolate this to almost any element of parenting. It's just I'm interested in feeding.
Can we talk about how we can find a way to like sift through the noise and tune into what works for you and your family?
Emma: Um, I obviously would say yes, And one of the things that I talk about in the book is kinda, uh, general parenting tools rather than kinda overarching strategies that there are, you know, few key things if you can hold them in mind, then you can apply different advice to your child and your family situation.
And for me, one of the most important ones of them is around collaboration. And I think that, you know, what we were talking about before when you were talking about capitalism and that kinda sense of productivity and purpose, how that applies to feeding, and you know, in the home, how we bring our own histories into that too. I think so often when we're, whether we're talking about feeding, whether we're talking about anything else to do with family life, we come to it in a very intellectual way, we're talking about I'm going to apply this principle or I'm going to do it this way, and that's just going to work.
What I focus on a lot in the book is that how do we go down into thinking about this as a relationship, which I know you talk about, you know, feeding is a relationship, that we bring our own relationship with food into that, but also our child will have their own experience with food. When we come at things from a cognitive way, you know, we're thinking about this is what I'm gonna apply to this situation and we're not thinking so much about how it's going to land with that other person. Or what they're bringing to that situation.
Emma: So let's say you followed some beautiful advice that you've seen on social media around talking broccoli, that we're going to feed children broccoli.
If we are stuck on that idea that this is, you know, the kinda cognitive, that intellectual idea that this is what should happen, it becomes so hard to see our child's experience of what it's we're trying to do. So again, you know, being able to base those things on the relationship. You know what, what did it feel like when I have prepared this food for my child and they have refused it, or actually they're disgusted by it?
How does that make me feel, what does that touch on for me as a parent? And often there are such complex issues with that. Right? In the book, I kinda start off by thinking about us as, as whole human beings and what we're bringing. And then, you know, it's only when we understand ourselves that we can really think about how can we then relate to our children.
So with food for example, you know, so much gets brought up for us as parents, where our children, we feel rejected. We feel like we're not doing, you know, good job, I can't even feed my child. It's one of those basic tasks like how can this be so hard? You know, that basic thing that everyone else seems to be doing ok. I must be doing something wrong. So what touches on for you, you know, those feelings of, let's say rejection or, or you know, conversely, maybe it's fury, you know how, how dare they reject this? I've worked so hard, so we're thinking about our own histories.
And once we can think about what does that touch on for us, we can then think about, what do we want to shift so that our experience, our emotions aren't getting in the way of what we're trying to do with our child, which is very much a relational process.
Once we understand that and we can think about what we're bringing, then we can think about what are those pieces of information advice that do fit? Where are those things actually that I feel like are still niggling, like actually this makes me so angry, so that maybe I wanna go think about that somewhere outside of this situation or circumstances. And it's only really then once we understand all of that, that we can then think about how does that child actually feel about broccoli? You know, do they actually like broccoli?
If they don't, what am I gonna do about that? Am I gonna persevere? Is that worth it for me? Do I have the resources? Maybe it's okay for them not to eat broccoli for a little while, while I just get over all emotions that this broccoli has brought in. You know, it seems so simple these are the things that come up for us as parents, you know, multiple, multiple times a day when these particular situations or events can touch something that can feel so fundamental, so emotional, so raw. What we tend to then do is that we bring in more information, more kinda cognitive information so that we try a different strategy rather than than pause at that point and think, why is it that this is bringing up something that feels so powerful for me that is getting in the way of what I want to happen between me and my child?
Does that make sense?
Laura: Yeah. Absolutely. And, and I think like, just to maybe put it in slightly more, concrete context, at least this is something I've been thinking a lot about recently when I see a lot of advice about feeding our children. It's, you know, there's like, let's take for example, this idea that you shouldn't offer alternatives, right? If the child doesn't like, you know, doesn't eat what's on the table. By, you know, there's this, there's this school of thought by of, of like, well, if you offer alternatives, then your child is manipulating you and you know, you're getting into this battle of wills with your child and you know, setting aside what's going on with the child's psychology there, you're already setting this up as a sort of,
Emma: A battle.
Laura: A battle. Yeah. Uh, rather than a relationship where, you know, where you might be able to be like, okay, what, what, what's coming up for me when they refuse their broccoli? And Okay. Then once I've, once I've maybe processed that a little bit and, you know, talk myself down off the edge. What's going on for them?
Oh, actually, like they have a sensor processing difference or they, you know, there's not enough safe foods on the table, so they can't actually, it doesn't feel, they don't have that sense of felt safety that allows them to come to the table and, and have a meal with the, the rest of the family if you're even eating at a table in the first place.
Basically, it actually prevents us from being responsive to the child that is in front of us. And, and I, I know responsive can be kind of like a loaded term for some people, but what I mean by that is literally just being able to see the, the child and their needs and meet them where they're at rather than kind assuming that actually they're trying to manipulate you and,
Emma: Totally. And I think we can often have this idea, right, that we as parents are in control and that if our children are not doing the things that we feel like they should be doing, that they're meant to be doing, that other people's children seem to be doing, then that's our failure as a parent and we just need to try harder or we need to work more, or that there's something wrong with them and so we need to work at kinda fixing them. Actually, you know, the relationship between a parent and child is so complex. You know, it's almost, we have this idea that children are like these malleable objects that, you know, if we're just molding them in the right way, then they're gonna come out, the outcome is gonna be the one that we are, you know, striving for.
Rather than actually our children come into the world as these whole human beings who have their own thoughts, feelings, needs, beliefs, tastes, you know, and also then within the, the wider context in which we're living. You know, can I afford broccoli at the moment? How do I feel about broccoli? You know, what happened when I refused broccoli at the kitchen table?
And how much is that impacting on how I feel now? So, you know, our history, our current circumstances, the relationships that we're in our work environments, our financial circumstances. You were talking about broccoli, but all of those things can really, um, you know, kinda, yeah. Obviously have a huge impact on these kinda very, what seem like very minor circumstances.
Laura: Yeah. What does that broccoli represent?
Emma: What does broccoli represent?
Laura: What's it really about?
Emma: I'm thinking about people listening to this and go, yeah, typical psychologist, right? We're talking about broccoli and now I'm talking about like wider society, but actually, you know, because we so often just see that kind of one idea of it's just, it's just about the broccoli and you know, if, if I tried hard enough then I'd be able to mold my child to eat that broccoli or whatever it might be.
But when we can take into account everything that we're bringing, everything that they're bringing, our wider circumstances, then we can kinda, yeah, focus in on that relationship as whole people, right? Like this is who I'm showing up to this, you know, this kitchen table and this is who they're, and this is how they're showing up.
And you know, all of those kinda different circumstances, how tired they are, all of those things that can get in the way, that once we let go of that idea of this is how it should be, we can start to see what actually is, you know, what actually is in front of us. And then we can, you know, think about solutions to target what is going on in those moments?
Laura: I think there is something, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this as well, Emma, that feels uniquely. kind of, yeah. I think you used the word fundamental earlier or primitive or something that, you know, gets to really the core of, um, you know, survival for humans when it comes to feeding that really kind of just, it kind of, it's like a knife gets dug in in a way that it doesn't with, with some other areas of, of parenting that, yeah. It's just such a, an essential part maybe of parent, feeding your child particularly again, I'm thinking to like those early, um, early weeks and months and, and years when, you know, there is that kind of narrative of like, the first 1000 days are the most important of a child's life and you know, what you feed them now is gonna impact their, you know, cognitive development and da da da da da for the rest of their lives.
And so I just wonder if, from a psychologist perspective, if you have any thoughts about just like, you know, what that's kind of touching on for us when feeding isn't going well.
Emma: I think you're right. I think it's so primitive, you know, that actually so much of parenting is around these kind of really primitive survival mechanisms.
Emma: You know that actually our, our role first and foremost is to keep this child alive you know whatever, at whatever cost. And you know, feeding difficulties, can start, you know, from day one. So thinking about, you know, kinda those who have breastfeeding difficulties or feel judged for their feeding choices, for example. And then that can kinda go on so much through food being a representation of love, you know, how did we experience that when we were growing up?
And then how do we wanna kinda translate that for our own family again within the context that we're in. So if we're, you know, two parents are working full-time, for example, how does, how, how do we kinda translate that into, you know, eating together or those kinda idealized family meals that we hold in our minds? So I think it can be very fraught. It can be such a fraught experience. And I think it's also an experience that is so judged, right? You know, thinking about feeding babies, thinking about what kinda food we give our toddlers, thinking about, you know, the, all of the stories that you've spoken about, diet, culture, obesity, all of that kinda, it can get really mixed. Our own relationships with our bodies, our own relationships with food, and how that comes up in our experience of feeding our children, how well supported we are in that, you know, financially. Again, kinda how that, how that can impact on what we're able to offer our children. So, I think, you know, it is the way that we express love, it's the way that we kinda show our children that we care about them. At the same time, there is so much pressure to do it a certain way so it can become so fraught so quickly.
Emma: And we also don't talk enough about how boring it can be to feed children day in and day out.
Laura: It's so relentless. Three meals, three snacks. Like, oh, you don't like this anymore. Suddenly you like that.
Emma: And especially, you know, when, you know, you've kind of been, if you've raised children during lockdowns and you literally, you know, it was almost like a constant rotation of food over lockdowns. So, you know, I think that we don't talk enough about that kinda ambivalence around, you know, not just parenting tasks, but parenting in general.
But, you know, again, the idea is that we're have this kinda lovely, you know, food environment that, um, we're gonna share these kinda pleasant meals together where the family are coming together to talk about their day. All of this kinda, again, kinda back to stories, narratives, ideals that we hold when actually for a lot of parents, food is something that can just feel quite boring and quite relentless and, and often very stressful.
And, and you know, as soon as we start talking about that side of things too, the more difficult, the more negative side of things. Often we can feel a sense of relief that actually it doesn't have to be this one ideal way that actually all of these experiences can be so complex and varied with individual.
Laura: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you for, for speaking to the, to that point and, and I think naming how Yeah. Tedious feeding a family can be. And we were kind of talking a little bit off mic. I have a piece coming out next week that talks about, um, feeding a child as an aesthetic. Like that's what we see so much of on, on, um, social media when actually if, if we're feeding with that per- like idealized image in our head. Again, it occludes us from seeing the child in front of us and being in relationship with that child and, and food can be, You know, again, without romanticizing it, it can be ti-, a time for connection and for checking in. It can also just be a cluster fuck, sometimes and through nobody else, you know, through no one's fault.
Um, just because you, sometimes you have to just get food in their mouths to sustain them to get to the next activity or like, you know, to grandma's house or what, you know, whatever it is. So, um, yeah, I think. I really appreciate that you know, that you're having these conversations where we're looking at the messy, ugly, boring, tiring, exhausting side of it, but not in this like meme-ified way that we often see that that sort of like really trivializes how exhausting and draining and how much hard work all of this is.
But yeah, I really appreciate that in your, in the book that you're kind of inviting us to check in with what, what stories and fantasies we're bringing to our parenting that actually might be causing us more suffering and, and, and harming the relationships that we're having with, with our families so that we can kind of, you know, give ourselves permission to take what we need and leave the rest of
Emma: Yeah. Yeah. And you can get really creative then, right? Like once you let go of those ideas and you think about what do I want? What do we need as a family, you can get really creative with the way that you do things.
Emma: You know, for example, feeding children in the bath, that is something that somebody that I know does, you know, occasionally when they've had a really tricky day and it's been an absolute shitshow, I'm like, you know we're gonna get in the bath, you can have some sandwiches, that means I don't need to do any cleaning up, and then I'm gonna pop you into bed and I'm going to sit on the sofa and that is not something that you'd ever see on Instagram, I don't think.
But you know, just that kinda idea of what, what is gonna work for me? And what do I need right now and what does my child need right now? And maybe they don't need to have this kinda really beautiful aesthetic, aesthetically pleasing, mealtime actually. Maybe they just need to eat something quickly so that you can then move on with your day or have connection in a different way, and if you know, as you know, and you talked about, you know, the stress that can come with feeding can cause such a vicious circle so quickly that actually anything that you can do to kinda nip that in the bud and again bring in ideas around flexibility, creativity. What's gonna work so that you can feed your child but also in a way that feels the least stressful for all of you?
Laura: Yeah, absolutely. I fully endorse toast for dinner. If that's like, you know what you need to do to like put something in their bellies and get them to bed. Like as long as they're having enough to eat, then yeah, we're good.
Emma, thank you so much. This has been a really great conversation. Before I let you go, I want to ask you who or what is nourishing you right now?
Emma: Um, well at the moment I've been really focused on kinda restoration, so I think last year I did a lot of work around kinda reflection over the pandemic experience that parents had and how burnt out so many are, given the experiences of the past few years that are continuing. But at the moment, what I'm really kinda nourishing myself with, so a particular person, Lama Rod, who is an amazing meditation teacher and started to run these Thursday meditation groups, for UK people, cause he's based in the States. So, I've been kind of really consuming a lot of his work and his presence is just incredibly helpful and healing and I really love what he has to say about this particular time that we live in. I think that you'll really like him. He has a lot to say about you know, he calls this the age of apocalypse that we are coming into, we're in dark times at the moment, but there actually is by embracing that darkness that we can start to think about what we wanna shift into the future. So very much about, you know, not being afraid of embracing the dark, messy stuff, which is something that feels, really resonates with me.
Laura: I think that, um, it reminds me of Bayo Akomolafe's work. I don't know if you're familiar with their book, um, These Wilds Beyond Our Fences where they talk about that in terms of like climate crisis and, um, but also like racism and parenting. They're a parent. It's like, there's also some like nuclear physics or something in there. It's like, it's a really dense dense book. But, um, I'll, I'll link to that and I'll link to, sorry, what say the name of the, the per-, the,
Emma: His name is Lama, Lama Rod Owens, and he's on Instagram, but he also has stuff on the internet and he does a number of courses. He also wrote a book, so.
Laura: Okay. I'll link, definitely link to, to them in the, in the show notes. And then the final question I have for you, Emma, is, what are you snacking on right now? So at the end of every episode, my guest and I share something. It's like a recommendation that they have for the audience. It can be an actual snack. I mean, I feel like you've just given us a recommendation, but I want another one. Like what you've been into lately.
Emma: I am snacking on rest, which I think, you know, the, again, we can often have this idea that we have to do these things in a perfect way. That you know, what our kind of recovery journey might look like, having a few years where I think things have been so intense, you know so many families... You know that if we talk about kinda how, you know, self healing or wellness journeys, often we're talking about, I'm up and meditate for an hour in morning. You just can't do that when you've got children, or it's hard to do that when you've got children, so I am a big fan of snacking on moments of rest, you know moments during the day to just reset yourself. So even just sitting with your eyes closed, taking a few deep breaths.
Or just thinking about the ground beneath your feet or just stopping, you know, so that you're not just going and going and going all day, but when you taking a moment to check in with yourself and just see how you are.
Laura: I love that microdosing on rest throughout the day.
Laura: Love it. Okay, so my, I feel like my thing is kind of just silly, but in a, in a good way. So we are recording this in January, 2023. So we're just coming out of like the holiday blah, whatever that was. But I just came across last, at the end of last week, the 2022 Haters Guide to the Williams Sonoma catalog.
So I'm not sure if you're familiar with what Williams Sonoma is, but it's this US based brand and it's like if you think about like a John Lewis or like, you know, a higher end department store, but on steroids. Um, that's Williams Sonoma. It's like all these wildly expensive, like, you know, like a countertop pizza oven.
Like nobody needs that in a flat in London, you know, like who needs that? Who has the kitchen space for that? And it's like, you know, everything is, like, all the kitchen appliances are like $500 and stuff. But anyway, this guy just goes through a bunch of items in the Williams Sonoma, um, catalog takes like the copy that they've written in there and just rips it a new one, just tears into it and it's hilarious and it's very cathartic, um, and highly enjoyable. So I'll link to that, I know we're like, out of Christmas season and holiday season. But, um, I think it's still worthwhile to have a little look at and, um, you can watch out for the 2023 one if you're listening to this later in the year.
All right, Emma, can you tell everyone the name of your amazing new book and where they can find out more information about you?
Emma: Uh, yes. So I am Mumologist on Instagram and loads of my kinda links and everything are on there. Or my website is dremmasvanberg.com. The book is called Parenting for Humans, and it's out on March 2nd which is World Book Day, which I love.
Laura: Lovely. That's so,
Emma: So, you know, I'd again love it if people would pre-order it. That makes a big difference. But yeah, if people do get their hands on it, I'd love to hear what people make of it.
Laura: We'll have all of the links for Emma's books and her social media and her website in the transcript and in the show notes for this episode. So check her out. Thank you so much, Emma. This was,
Emma: Thank you.
Laura: will be really reassuring for a lot of parents to just hear that, Okay we can let go of some of the pressure and expectations and just check in with ourselves and figure out what it is that we need and what we want from our relationships.
Emma: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much for chatting.
Laura Thomas: Thank you so much for listening to this week's episode of Can I Have Another Snack? If you enjoyed this episode, please take a moment to rate and review in your podcast player and head over to laurathomas.substack.com for the full transcript of this conversation, plus links we discussed in the episode and how you can find out more about this week's guest. While you're over there, consider signing up for either a free or paid subscription Can I Have Another Snack? newsletter, where I'm exploring topics around bodies, identity and appetite, especially as it relates to parenting. Also, it's totally cool if you're not a parent, you're welcome too. We're building a really awesome community of cool, creative and smart people who are committed to ending the tyranny of body shame and intergenerational transmission of disordered eating. Can I Have Another Snack? is hosted by me, Laura Thomas, edited by Joeli Kelly, our funky artwork is by Caitlin Preyser. And the music is by Jason Barkhouse. And lastly Fiona Bray keeps me on track and makes sure this episode gets out every week. This episode wouldn't be possible without your support. So thank you for being here and valuing my work and I'll catch you next week.
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En Terra Ignota | 02:14:03